The Ebb and Flow of Wilmington's Film Industry

Wilmington, NC – As Wilmington's film industry was digesting news that NBC cancelled its Monday night show Surface, it learned that the CW network's One Tree Hill will return to shot its fourth season. These developments come as lawmakers in Raleigh scramble to fix a loophole in the state's brand new film incentives package.

During the final moments of NBC's Surface the four main characters climbed into the steeple of Wilmington's Grace United Methodist Church as a huge tsunami rolled into town down 3rd Street.

The cliffhanger was how the characters would survive in this wet new world, while Wilmington's film industry waited to find out how the show would survive its mediocre ratings. It didn't.

Obviously it's a let down and you wish the show could come back here, but in the episodic television world you know that everything eventually does come to an end.

That's Wilmington Film Commissioner Johnny Griffin.

"So we certainly don't sit back once we get a show and say okay that's it and we don't have to worry about anything in the next few years, because at any point in time the show could go away. So we're constantly looking for business and trying to get more business in here regardless of what we have.

Griffin says Surface's 15-episode run was the first time NBC Universal worked in Wilmington, using hundreds of local crew members and taking what he says were positive experiences back to Hollywood, a place where unforgiving executives kill dozens of shows a year.

So to prolong the run of their show One Tree Hill producers took an old advertising trick and modernized it with savvy product placements and downloadable soundtracks. One Tree Hill executive producer Joe Devola.

Back in the day, soap operas were called soap operas because they were brought to you by soap companies, Milton Berle was brought to you by Texaco Star, so you know, it's really a step backwards than a revolution right now, it's just a necessary evil, I'm happy to do it, the advertisers are great and we try not to make it blatant.

Devola gambled and lined up several of these advertisers for the new season before it was announced. And it wasn't until he got the call that Devola knew he would return to Wilmington and some of his favorite restaurants.

I'm excited, come on, I can go back to eating at the Dixie Grill everyday. You know how happy I am to eat there?

After 9-11 Devola knew he wanted to shoot south of the Canadian border. A growing number of states are luring film production away from Canada and eastern Europe with tax incentives.

North Carolina passed its first incentives package last year, giving productions with a budget of at least a quarter of a million dollars a 15% rebate for money spent on local goods, services and labor. But the IRS considers the rebate taxable income,cutting into how much companies actually save in North Carolina. New Hanover County Democrat Julia Boseman has introduced legislation in the state senate to close the loophole.

It's going to be a technical correction to make sure they get the full benefit of the credit which will significantly boost the film industry here and across North Carolina.

Down south, Georgia offers film makers landscapes similar to North Carolina's: urban; coastal; historic and rural.

It also offers a tax credits on many expenses and a special break for productions filmed in underdeveloped counties. Georgia Film Office Director Lee Thomas says production has generated a $138-million economic impact for the first quarter of this year and more productions are in the pipeline.

We have a thriller called One Miss Call that's setting up, Tyler Perry has a new show, a new movie with Lion's Gate called Daddy's Little Girl that's his third project here in Georgia, Jeff Foxworthy has a show that's in pre-production so that's going to be the next couple of months here.

Back in Wilmington, three small features are shooting on the Screen Gems lot and One Tree Hill will start production back up in mid-July. Catherine Welch, WHQR News.